At an Army base near Seattle, soldiers are committing suicide, murdering their families—and in one case, waterboarding their own kids. Winston Ross reports from a base on the brink
Winston Ross at The Daily Beast August 9, 2011
Back when Jonathan Gilbert was still in middle school, he attended his cousin’s graduation ceremony from the U.S. Army’s basic training, watching men in neatly pressed uniforms marching, saluting one another, and smiling.
“That was it for him,” Gilbert’s mother, Karrie Champion, tells The Daily Beast. “He knew what he wanted to do. He enlisted before he was out of high school.”
The boy had no idea what he was getting into—that he’d wind up in Iraq, driving a Stryker, watching the unit in the caravan ahead of him roll off a bridge and land upside down. Two soldiers were killed, one of them decapitated. Nineteen-year-old Jonathan helped clean up the body parts.
This event and his upcoming redeployment, Gilbert’s mom believes, is what led her son to kill himself on July 28 at the age of 21, forcing a pistol to his head and pulling the trigger after a violent struggle with a fellow soldier who apparently tried to stop him. It was the 11th “suspicious death” (the Army has yet to officially declare any of them suicides) of a soldier stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord this year. Assuming they’re all ruled suicides, that tops the previous record set the year before, of nine. The year before that, there were nine suicides, too.
Champion, along with a growing legion of modern-day war veterans and their families, says it’s long past time the Army took notice of a tragic, preventable epidemic—one that seems especially acute at Lewis-McChord.
The base, an hour or so south of Seattle, was named by the government-owned, independent news source Stars and Stripes last year as the most troubled in the military, thanks to an “incredible” number of incidents rooted in post-traumatic stress disorder, says Joseph Carter, a former Army sergeant with two Iraq tours under his belt.